For Catholics, the Sacrament of Marriage, or Holy Matrimony, is a public sign that one gives oneself totally to this other person. It is also a public statement about God: the loving union of Husband and wife speaks of family values and also God’s values.
…in the beginning.
God didn’t have to make the human race male and female as he did. God didn’t have to share his creative power with his own creatures and make the beginning of a new human life depend upon the free cooperation of a man and a woman with himself.
There is a limitless number of other ways in which God could have arranged for the multiplication of human beings, had he chosen to do so.
But God didn’t do it any other way.
He chose to make man male and female, and to give him the power, in partnership with himself, to produce new human life.
A Natural Institution
Marriage is a practice common to all cultures in all ages. It is, therefore, a natural institution, something common to all mankind. At its most basic level, marriage is a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and mutual support, or love.
Each spouse in a marriage gives up some rights over his or her life in exchange for rights over the life of the other spouse.
While divorce has existed throughout history, it has been rare until recent centuries, which indicates that, even in its natural form, marriage is meant to be a lifelong, union.
The Elements of a Natural Marriage
As Fr. John Hardon explains in his Pocket Catholic Dictionary, there are four elements common to natural marriage throughout history:
- It is a union of opposite sexes.
- It is a lifelong union, ending only with the death of one spouse.
- It excludes a union with any other person so long as the marriage exists.
- Its lifelong nature and exclusiveness are guaranteed by contract.
So, even at a natural level, divorce, adultery, and “homosexual marriage” are not compatible with marriage, and a lack of commitment means that no marriage has taken place.
A Supernatural Institution
In the Catholic Church, however, marriage is more than a natural institution; it was elevated by Christ Himself, in His participation in the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), to be one of the seven sacraments. A marriage between two Christians, therefore, has a supernatural element as well as a natural one.
While few Christians outside of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches regard marriage as a sacrament, the Catholic Church insists that marriage between any two baptized Christians, as long as it is entered into with the intention to contract a true marriage, is a sacrament.
Catholic marriage requires sacramental Matrimony
Aside from exceptional cases, a Catholic cannot validly contract marriage except in the presence of a priest.
A Catholic who attempts to enter into marriage before a minister or a civil magistrate (such as a judge or a justice of the peace) is not really married at all. She or He commits a grave sin by going through such a ceremony; and the couple will be living in habitual mortal sin as long as they continue to cohabit.
Two non-Catholics who are married by a minister or a civil magistrate are genuinely married. If the two are unbaptized, theirs is a “natural” marriage, such as was marriage before Jesus instituted the sacrament of Matrimony. If both non-Catholics are baptized, however, their marriage is a sacrament.
But for a Catholic, there just isn’t any other way to marry validly except to receive the sacrament of Matrimony. When Jesus institutes a sacrament, he requires that his followers use it.
According to diocesan policy couples contemplating marriage need to consult a parish priest nine months to a year before an intended wedding ceremony and they are to receive pre-marital instructions either from a Mentoring Couple or by attending an Engaged Encounter Weekend.
Please call or email the parish secretary in the rectory office, 684-2711, for more information and available dates.